The Mighty Highland
Viking, Minnesota

Rural Reflections Radio

I like to write about farming.  It’s a fairly consuming passion and the time I spend farming is wildly out of proportion to the size of farm we own.  Scottish Highland cattle make up most of our farming operation but I rarely write about these hairy beasts.  I want to change that in this week’s column.

Scottish Highland cattle have grazed the rugged Scottish landscape since the sixth century.  I don’t know if they originated there or if the were imported when the Scandinavians invaded Great Britain.   Highland cattle located on the islands around Scotland are referred to as Kyloes and were smaller than the reddish cattle of the mainland although they are pretty much the same now.  These island cattle were “swum” across the water to the mainland and then later herded to England.  I guess that makes them the world’s first triathletes.   Growing up Highland in Scotland created a very hearty animal because natural selection and brutal living conditions eliminated those that were not hearty.   Highland cattle come from an area of rocks and hills and therefore had good, short legs with hard hooves.   They have a quick, compact gait unlike most cattle that run sort of lope along like a rocking horse.   The Scottish Highland is lean as it insulates itself with long, beautiful hair instead of fat.  Their meat is low in cholesterol and they are also very disease resistant.

All of this sounds good but it wouldn’t mean anything to me without the horns.  It’s the first thing you notice.   Highland cows have horns that soar skyward with a graceful curve.  Highland bulls have horns that grow horizontal and finally downward.  These cattle require special equipment because of the horns.  We’ve had to modify hay feeders in the past and I’m working on a chute and head catch to make working the cattle easier.  It’s good to have a nephew who welds.   The second thing you notice with this breed is the hair; it’s long and quite beautiful.  Their hair is also a fiber that’s made into yarn and used for clothing.

The biggest benefit to these cattle is for crossbreeding.  I use Angus bulls on purebred Highland cows which creates an animal that is moderately sized, finishes to slaughter weight quickly and produces high quality beef.  There are also the benefits of hybrid hardiness.  Simply put, hybrid hardiness is a term to describe how  cross breeding animals in a species that are unlike their children will receive the best aspects of each parent.  It’s often said that hybrid hardiness is the only free lunch in raising cattle.

Well there you have it, my little soliloquy on the high points of the Highland breed.  I’m sure an equal argument exists for any cattle breed.  I do believe my Highlands have strengths not shared by other cattle breeds.  Plus there always that hair, and those horns-those long, lovely horns.